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The Branding Of Education

The irony is that education in India hasn’t learnt any vital lessons and it’s time it did.

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma

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Of India, it can easily be said, we have more Universities; Colleges and Schools than we have functional traffic lights. Equally, the average Indian is a great consumer of any kind of education. But then as Bhavana Chamoli, a young consultant in New York, once told me, “for many, education is like going to rehab”. India perhaps has the largest population of professional students: who find refuge and solace within the confines of campuses and never want to leave that comfort zone.

Amongst the highest advertised products in India, education would rank in the top three as well. But then if this is how broad-based and expansive our education system is, why don’t we have globally competitive brands which go beyond the IITs and the IIMs? The only recent ‘brand’ as it were to jostle for space in this club would be the Indian School of Business.

If you drive down any city in India or for that matter ever semi-urban India, you will see a surfeit of ‘education institutions’ but not one that can be globally competitive or for that matter cutting edge in terms of innovation: a bit like our much-venerated software industry which to my mind is more labour arbitrage rather than cutting edge global solution using technology. And the education conundrum in India is across verticals. For all the accolades we send the way of AIIMS, the research there and in almost all our medical colleges is pitiable which is why most people who can afford to, rush for medical intervention overseas be it transplants or cancer. If you look around at the scenario of liberal education your bucket of woes will runneth over. We have almost uniquely destroyed the treasure-trove we in India possessed when it came to the liberal arts.

Sure there are some exceptions: be it an Ashoka University or for that matter Jindal. But for a country of 1.2 billion people to have just two remarkable institutions of this nature is laughable of not downright condemnable. So what ails education in India? For starters, we have too many stars in the world outside education but none within an those that exist have to fight political battles be it Irfan Habib or more recently Romila Thapar and the list is endless. The injection of politics into education is a legacy we need to shake off. The HRD ministry is nothing but a gargantuan error, which has eaten into the very being of quality education in India. The syllabi of school education are ones that haven’t been upgraded for eons.

Brands are built assiduously on the back of unique benefits they provide and the manner in which they provide them. Take a look at the digital avatars of some of these highly advertised educational institutions in India and you will see for yourself how primitive they are in terms of telling their story to a larger world. Brands need to constantly worry about relevance and revenue: in our country both have been given the go-by in many cases. Look at how miserable the infrastructure is in many of these so-called gems such as the IITs and IIMs. Many years ago, when some IIM alumni wanted to donate money to their alma maters for specific things, the idea was rejected by the HRD Ministry saying while their money was welcome, it was up to the institution to decide what to do with it. Whereas in the West, donors not only choose what they wish to do have their money used for, they also get naming rights.

The irony is that education in India hasn’t learnt any vital lessons and it’s time it did.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Suhel Seth

The author is Managing Partner of Counselage

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